New federal judge assigned to Disney v. DeSantis lawsuit. Here’s what we know

Judge Mark Walker disqualified himself Thursday

Disney's Magic Kingdom and Gov. DeSantis. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – A new federal district judge has been assigned to the Walt Disney Company’s federal lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis.

District Judge Allen Winsor will handle Disney’s federal lawsuit over a series of legislation pushed by DeSantis to strip Disney of oversight of its property in Florida and increase state oversight of the company.

Winsor is taking over the case from Judge Mark Walker, who stepped away from the case Thursday after learning that a family member was a Disney stockholder, citing that as a conflict of interest.

“Even though I believe it is highly unlikely that these proceedings will have a substantial effect on The Walt Disney Company, I choose to err on the side of caution — which, here, is also the side of judicial integrity — and disqualify myself,” Walker said.

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The governor’s lawyers had filed a motion to disqualify Walker last month because he had referenced the ongoing dispute between the DeSantis administration and Disney in unrelated lawsuits regarding free speech issues.

Walker ruled against the governor’s motion, saying his arguments were without merit.

Winsor is a departure from Walker, an Obama appointee and frequent critic of DeSantis’ in federal court. Walker has handed down rulings against the DeSantis administration and Florida that were peppered with harsh critiques of the state’s policies, at one point likening Florida’s interpretation of the First Amendment to the Upside Down in the TV series “Stranger Things.”

Winsor, an Orlando native, was a solicitor general under former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and was put on the Florida District Court of Appeals by Gov. Rick Scott before he was appointed to the federal bench by President Trump in 2019.

According to the questionnaire he submitted for judicial appointees to the U.S. Senate, Winsor has been a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association and the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group that believes in a strict interpretation of the Constitution.

Disney is suing DeSantis and the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, the new political body created by DeSantis and the Florida Legislature to oversee Walt Disney World property. The district replaces the longtime Reedy Creek Improvement District, which the state legislature created for Disney in the 1960s.

DeSantis and the legislature dissolved the RCID last year after Disney criticized the Parental Rights in Education law, also known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.